A Tragically Common Story

My story is a typical one, though were led to believe it’s not. Every shock survivor I’ve talked to has some variation of these experiences.

Same song. Different tune.

Our stories are valid; our damage doesn’t evaporate when someone points out Suzie Success Story who responded fabulously to shock.

Nor does the issue of nonexistent informed consent- so stop saying “it helps some” as an end to discussion.

Stop acting like its heresy to question why it helped Suzie.

Was it

  • organic brain syndrome?
  • Anesthesia?
  • Rest and pain meds following the procedure?
  • Placebo?
  • The very story she was told about her treatment resistant depression and the magical and mysterious, kinder gentler, shock treatment ?
  • Does treatment resistant depression even exist?
  • Is there a better way to help her?

These questions don’t hurt Suzie- they look out for her. 

These questions aren’t without answer as many psychiatrists would have you believe and choose to ignore. Shock is not as shrouded in mystery as psychiatry says it is.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Don’t cower when someone throws down a “my life was saved by shock” story,  or a “we don’t know how but it works,” line.

Keep talking.

I started out as a Suzie.

Then reality caught up with me. You know the rest.

I wish someone had persisted. Asked questions. Told me the truth. Gave me alternatives.

Keep the conversation going. Ask questions. Challenge accepted wisdom.

The lives of all the people damaged by shock as well as the Suzies out their depend on it.


Hyman, M. (2008, March 2). Why Antidepressants Do Not Work for Treating Depression [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg3KgRXDB3k

Ross, C. A. (2006). The Sham ECT Literature: Implications for Consent to ECT. Retrieved from http://www.ectresources.org/ECTscience/Ross_2006___Sham_ECT_Literatures.pdf

Stevens, L. (n.d.). Psychiatry’s Electroconvulsive Shock Treatment (ECT): ACrimeAgainst Humanity. Retrieved from http://www.antipsychiatry.org/ect.htm


6 thoughts on “A Tragically Common Story

  1. ECT after-effects – a survivor’s story

    What I didn’t know until I was 39 is that I was brought up in a family affected by sexual abuse, both my parents had suffered childhood rape, and being the youngest I bore the brunt of sibling bullying, a ‘juvenile delinquent’ survivor of psychiatry from 1961 getting the usual Freudian ‘you’re jealous of your father and want to have sex with your mother’ plus told that I had strong homosexual tendencies, and fancied my first psychiatrist – I was 12 at the time – a classic case of transference – all of which made me uncooperative with psychiatrists – a big mistake!!

    In 1971 I was in a grieving process and exhausted from running a summer play scheme, so they sectioned me, diagnosed catatonic depression, filled me up to the eyeballs with drugs, and when I didn’t ‘get better’ quick enough, without any choice or mention of the after-effects, they gave me ECT – I don’t know how many shocks, or whether, as is common practice, the equipment was obsolete, the staff untrained, the voltage totally arbitrary, because, it seems, when I started to make noises about suing, they conveniently lost my medical records.

    Soon after ECT, I was visited in hospital by someone whose face and name I didn’t know, although, I learnt in conversation we’d shared a communal flat, eating drinking, talking together almost every day of the previous year, and when I was despatched back with no after-care to the family home where problems had arisen, I discovered my current address book, and frantically phoned some strange names in it, hoping their voices would bring back glimmers of recognition.

    Soon after ECT I realised I could remember all of the alphabet, nor my times table although I’d As in maths GCE O and A level, and I often stayed at home, irrationally fearing I’d be asked to recite them – for weeks I didn’t know first names of my parents, older siblings – at the first opportunity I moved to a town where almost no-one knew me, to avoid the embarrassment of social situations, and I still have cold sweats in large groups when I might be called upon to introduce people I’d known for years, but can’t remember their names – every day I need to muster the courage to venture forth so as not to be trapped in lonely isolation.

    For 6 or so years after my finals, sat just before ECT, I thought I’d failed, until writing about something else, with a vague ps, I was sent my degree certificate, which was useful, no longer having to explain away 4 years of my life – I’ve got 13 GCEs, 4 top grade, but no professional qualifications – since ECT I’ve sat only 1 exam, and despite it being 70% project work and continual assessment, I struggled to just pass, well bottom of the class – my memory and impaired concentration can’t cope.

    Some years after ECT, I was approached by a Social Security inspector, who asked if I knew a woman, and was surprised when I didn’t, but insisted she was the mother of my daughter – having no memory of her, I was easily persuaded by my now ex-wife to deny paternity – years later again, I met old friends, who said I’d had an affair, and she’d just had her womb scraped – but by then I’d thrown away all the papers, and am told I can’t now trace her, and she’s unlikely to want to trace me, who forgot being her father.

    I can spend all afternoon in deep, personal conversation with one other person, then, the very next day in the street cut her or him dead, walk away from the smile of, to me, a total stranger, which has lost me untold friends (I didn’t know I did that until a kind person told me), and I’ve long since given up on my life aim of writing a novel – my mind can only extend to brief, disciplined sections (like this is written) – even though at college my published articles got a special mention in an award-winning Observer Mace student magazine.

    For 29 years I’ve lived a moment to moment existence, every day coping with an emotional yo-yo – I’m liable to cry in company for no apparent reason, leaving my flat is a major expedition, and I rarely go beyond a round of known people and places, partly because explaining to those who don’t know me why I reacted in a particular way is just too complicated, and for a long time my sleep was rare – like those twitching frog’s legs, I suffer from muscular spasms that jerk me awake when I lie down and try to relax.

    Like many ECT survivors, I suffer from fear of doctors and hospitals, and a few years ago I had uveitis, but kept putting off seeing my doctor, until two friends almost dragged me there, and then to hospital, where I was told, another week and there’d have been permanent damage and blindness – I’ve had at least three ‘mystery’ illnesses, and perhaps like others a brain scan would show the same results as a stroke or epileptic fit caused by ECT – but they are serious medical conditions, whilst ECT is supposed to be a treatment.

    I’m told ECT is given to cure suicidal tendencies, which I find very peculiar, because before ECT I was never suicidal, and when a friend killed himself, I was horrified by the waste of life and talent – but 3 years after ECT I almost did it, countless crushed up pills and my wrists still bear the scars, and every week, almost every day, my thoughts turn to suicide, my urge to live is weak, dormant – and it’s odd that if ECT is such a life-saver, why is the death rate for those who’ve had it so much higher than the national average?

    Childhood family holidays were all over Europe, I did a year’s VSO abroad, then hitchhiked across South Africa, and when at college in 1968 from Rome to Copenhagen and home, but since ECT I haven’t ventured outside the UK, I’m not sure I could manage – after ECT and the suicide attempt it helped induce, I spent a year in a halfway house, but then, realising I couldn’t cope alone, I was easy meat for recruitment to a group I fooled myself into believing was honourable, learning 19 years later it was a cult with a guru motivated by greed – where had gone the independent free spirit I once was?

    ECT is given by professionals who admit they don’t know what it does, except to say it’s localised brain treatment, yet the human body is 70% or more water, an excellent conductor, so how can they guarantee it’s just local – in a recent survey of ECT survivors, over a third said it had damage them, so every day doctors are breaking their Hippocratic Oath ‘do no harm’ – to me ECT equals Every Cell Traumatised, I’ve been tortured in civilised fashion, and all the time have to struggle against the victim mentality it’s helped produce in me.

    At a recent kinesiology session, I was taken through the experience of having ECT, to help heal it, and whilst she gently held my hand, it was as if I was ejected into the air, and I was left with the feeling of pure, unadulterated TERROR – I don’t own a TV, it affects me too much, and go to the cinema about once a year – Schindler’s List left me shattered for about a month, and Jurassic Park gave me nightmares and daymares for weeks, as if ECT had punched a hole in my aura, destroyed protection from outside influences.

    But I’ve been lucky, unlike the hundreds who die during treatment, written off as ‘heart attack’, or are paralysed, or have given up, their minds destroyed, or are forced to agree to yet more shocks under threat of denial of psychiatric drugs they’ve been made addicts of – an American philosopher once wrote ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, and I’ve spent weeks vainly trying to recall lost months, but can’t fill the gaps – I often feel I’m going round in circles, and about all that keeps me going is anger at what was done to me.

    Oliver Swingler
    Written 28th October 2000 – slightly edited September 2015

    And later …

    Since writing and sharing my ECT survivors story, I got lots of support from others who’d been damaged by the mental health system, got out some of my anger manning a picket outside an ECT clinic (my picture was in the local newspaper!), had loads of counselling – about my dysfunctional family affected by sexual abuse, leaving the cult, near alcoholism and being an ex-offender, as well as psychiatric and ECT abuse. And, in the course of year, I tried 20 different forms of alternative therapy – using barter for those I couldn’t afford, and even found a sympathetic doctor who actually listened.
    I still live moment-to-moment and have memory problems – but people pay big bucks to learn to live in now, when I can’t do anything else (!), and I’ve pieced together much of my life story, important names and dates, which is always nearby in case of panic attacks.
    My anti-ECT stance helped me regain some of the campaigning zeal of my youth, and I’ve broadened out, been involved in anti-war and anti-fracking protests, as well as for a time joining a left/green choir, and writing two songs: ‘Bees are buzzing’ https://youtu.be/TwHZkY4UbfI and ‘Global warming’ http://youtu.be/s9g_Ucr4twQ both of which have been retweeted by hundreds of people to more than a million followers.
    I still have problems in social situations, but I’ve two very good friends, have served on a committee or two, and even had the confidence to get back onto the dating scene, chatting away to others seeking friendship.
    What I’m trying to get across is that it’s not easy, but it isn’t all bad news, there can be life after ECT, moments of joy as well as sorrow, and with my sights and expectations of myself set nice and low, the chance to have real self-respect knowing I tried, I did something I feel good about almost every day.
    Best wishes,
    14th September 2015


    • Oliver, My heart breaks for what you’ve gone through and continue to struggle with.

      I’m honored by you shared your experiences with me. I can never say how much it means when I hear “me too” stories.

      I know other survivors and people unfamiliar with the deplorable procedure would benefit from hearing it. Would you mind if I made a blog post of your story for my voices of shock project?

      Also, you should check out the ECT support groups on facebook- Surviving electroshock – Global support group for ECT survivors and another called ELECTRO SHOCK SURVIVORS (“ECT”) SUPPORT GROUP. The people are awesome and totally supportive. I would love for you to meet us and get to know you better:)



      • Dear Jane,
        Thank you for your lovely e-mail response – and I really do agree, being able to share with people who’ve had the very similar experiences is absolutely vital in the healing process – lifting the self-blame and isolation of ‘it’s my fault’ and/or ‘it’s just me’ which psychiatry rams into our subconscious.
        I would feel honoured if you want to share my story as widely as you like – I used to be active campaigning against ECT in the UK in the late 1990s/early 2000s, as part of ECT Anonymous, and chairing Lifeboat – North Tyneside Mental Health Co-operative (at the time, the only totally self-running mental health group in the UK), for instance mounting a one-man picket outside the local ECT clinic (interviewed on local radio, picture in local newspaper!), and writing a satirical magazine attacking all the pious psychiatry hypocrites and drug company corruption … but I suffered burn-out, and needed to withdraw. I’m now 67, somewhat disabled and less able to campaign – but I am SO,SO GLAD to see that people like yourselves are doing such vital work, helping save lives and prevent untold misery. Thank you.
        As it happens, I’ve already joined the Facebook group – and already have two posts, and it was encouraging comments there that inspired me to look for other homes for my story. I’m very happy to keep in touch for the present, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate that like most ECT survivors giving guarantees is not possible, so as long as you appreciate I might need to withdraw at any point without little or no notice … As for meeting, I don’t know where you are, but I’m in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, northern England – possibly a long way away from other group member?
        Best wishes,


      • Ps. Here’s an acrostic poem I wrote many years ago …


        Elephants don’t arrange to have memories wiped out
        Larks don’t sing tunes that awaken chronic doubt
        Electric eels don’t give shocks to others of their kind
        Cheetahs don’t advise speedy cures that damage the mind
        Tortoises don’t punish those who are a bit slower
        Reindeer don’t stigmatise whatever they see as lower
        Owls don’t manufacture darkness for hunting their prey
        Crocodiles don’t submerge animals in terror for pay
        Oysters don’t clam up if treatment is put to the test
        Nightingales don’t wilfully disturb other creatures’ rest
        Voles don’t produce the dependence on hibernation
        Unicorns don’t pretend what’s real is an invention
        Locusts don’t strip bare while announcing that it’s healing
        Spiders don’t weave to confuse other spiders’ feeling
        Iguana don’t make ugly innocent hope and belief
        Vultures don’t pick at the bones of those suffering grief
        Earthworms don’t aim to undermine the vulnerable naïve
        Tigers don’t lurk behind caring postures that deceive
        Hornets don’t sting to sell results in published research
        Eagles don’t use old, weak ones to establish their perch
        Rattlesnakes don’t have hidden agendas that cause fear
        Ants don’t build nests that alienate every ant near
        Psychiatrists and their drugs often do – they’ve done it to me
        You may be the next to be raped by ECT

        Oliver Swingler
        October 2000


  2. […] If you or someone you love is considering ECT, or are mid-way through a course, I encourage you to connect with shock survivors, and/or read critical literature about this (rightly) controversial procedure first. You/they could become like me. One might chose to inaccurately and tactlessly point out that my experience is not typical, and doesn’t really apply, but I assure you, I’m not an anomaly; experiences like mine are the rule, not the exception. […]


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